Some stories that Migrant Tales has published about asylum seekers in Finland have had tragic endings. On Wednesday, however, there was a bright spot that cut through some of the gloom: Hayder Al-Hatemi, alias “SH,”* was released from detention from Helsinki’s Metsälä immigration removal center.
Today was his first full day as a free man.
“It really feels great to be free,” he said by phone. “I met Miro [del Gaudio] and we went to Migri [Finnish Immigration Service] to renew my work permit.”
Al-Hatemi said that being locked up at an immigration removal center like Metsälä is something he had never experienced in his life before.
“You are locked up with other people who may have criminal records and be drug dealers,” he continued. “What is my crime? Is it because my application for asylum was rejected? I’m not a criminal.”
Al-Hatemi said that his employer at a bakery in Laitila has promised to help him enroll in school so he could learn a new profession and become a baker. “This is such a nice feeling and so many people have helped me and made my freedom a reality,” he said.
Celebrating Hayder Al-Hatemi release Wednesday in Helsinki. From left to right: Eero Pellikka, Al-Hatemi, and Miro del Gaudio.
Al-Hatemi’s legal representatives, Lex Gaudius, have been instrumental in helping the Iraqi asylum seeker.
Lex Gaudius authorized lawyer Eero Pellikka was happy as well about his release.
“This is great news and very rewarding,” he said. “Fortunately he’s not the only case. There are many other asylum seekers who have been detained and released [later from detention].”
Even if Al-Hatemi avoided being deported to Iraq, he now faces a new hurdle in renewing his work permit. Before his detention on January 6, the Iraqi asylum seeker had been working at a bakery in Laitila in southwestern Finland since November 10.
Pellikka said that deporting Haider would have been unfortunate since he is an active person who has found work, speaks English fluently and has learned Finnish.
Miro del Gaudio, an Italian-Finnish lawyer, does a lot of work with Pellikka in giving legal counsel to asylum seekers in Finland.
Al-Hatemi and Del Gaudio were all smiles on Wednesday after the Iraqi asylum seeker’s release from detention.
“Individualism has become the new normal [in Finland],” he said. “Asylum seekers aren’t the only ones who need help today but many Finns as well.”
Del Gaudio said that his Italian and his Finnish background have helped him to understand people who come from outside Europe.
“[Part of ] my origins are from Naples, a city full of different cultures from all over the world,” he added.
Del Gaudio believes that Finland has to live up to its reputation as a country that respects and defends human rights.
“As a Finn, I want to proudly say that Finland has always been a forerunner and visionary in respecting human rights and developing such rights,” he continued. “The political leaders of today are not acting in conformity with our reputation worldwide. I hope that Finland and Finns will take a leading role [again] as defenders of human rights.”
“Now is the time to get involved because there is an opportunity to do something about the situation,” Del Gaudio concluded.
* As a general policy, Migrant Tales doesn’t publish the name of an asylum seeker for fear that it may put him or her in harm’s way. However, in Hayder Al-Hatemi’s case, we make an exception since his name has been published widely in the Finnish media.